Fellowship with Jesus: Part Two – Prayer

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the series “Fellowship with Jesus.” Click here to read the introduction. 

In this article series, we have been looking at fellowship with Jesus Christ, which is certainly a diverse topic. In this article, we will consider whether there is a Biblical basis for praying to Jesus or even talking to Jesus. In light of this subject, I believe that it is important to recognize biases and how other doctrinal positions affect this one. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and many other things, but I do not believe that he is God. I am not a Trinitarian. As we progress in this article, I assume that Jesus is an exalted human being—the most powerful created being ever, but still a created being.

Biblical view of prayer

Throughout the Old Testament, prayers were always addressed to God. This part is hardly controversial. What is slightly more controversial is where prayer is addressed in the New Testament. To whom are Christians to direct their prayers?

I Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Verse 10 of this chapter makes it clear that “God” here is God the Father (even for those inclined to believe the Trinity). Christians are encouraged to cast all their cares to God the Father. This is how Jesus prayed and directed his disciples to pray:

Luke 6:12 (ESV)
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

 

Matthew 6:5-13 (ESV)
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God the Father, and he led by that example.

We see this pattern of prayer to God the Father throughout the book of Acts as well.

Acts 4:23-30 (ESV)
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,
who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’–
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,
while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Throughout this particular context, it is clear that the “Lord” is God the Father. God the Father is the Source of healings, signs, and wonders, all performed through the name of Jesus (more on this later).

Acts 12:5 (ESV)
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Prayer was made to God; later, God sent an angel to release Peter from prison. In Acts 12:17, Peter ascribed this to “the Lord.” Some usages of “Lord” are ambiguous in the New Testament. Did Peter think that God had released him from prison or Jesus? In this case, with the use of God in verse 5 and the repeated use of the phrase “angel of the Lord” in the context, this “Lord” is most likely God the Father.

Acts 16:25-26 (ESV)
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God the Father.

Acts 27:35 (ESV)
And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.

Paul gave thanks to God the Father. In the context, God sent an angel to strengthen Paul (see verse 23). Paul said that the angel was the “angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship.” Paul worshipped and prayed to God the Father. This pattern is repeated throughout the New Testament:

Romans 14:6-9 (ESV)
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Interestingly, in a context where Christ is the “Lord” being referenced, Paul still made it clear that Christians are to give thanks (pray) to God. Christ is our Lord; he is our Master. We were bought with his blood. We are to do everything we do unto Christ Jesus.

Romans 15:30 (ESV)
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,

Notice that, in a context where the spirit and Jesus were mentioned, Paul said that prayers were to be sent to God the Father.

I Corinthians 14:2 (ESV)
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Those who speak and pray in tongues are speaking to God the Father.

Ephesians 5:18-21 (ESV)
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Christians are to conduct all of their business in life knowing that Christ is their Master (Ephesians 6:5-6), knowing that they are to do the will of God. So there is a sense in which it does not matter which “Lord” is specifically being referenced in Ephesians 5:19. Doing the will of God and the will of Christ is the same thing. God and Christ do not have separate agendas, even for a non-Trinitarian. And yet, in a robust context where Paul acknowledges the primacy of Christ (secondary to God only), he still taught that we are to pray to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Biblical pattern that emerges from the New Testament. For more on this, see the following verses:

  • Romans 6:17
  • Romans 7:25
  • Romans 10:1
  • I Corinthians 11:13
  • II Corinthians 1:20
  • II Corinthians 2:14
  • II Corinthians 8:16
  • II Corinthians 9:15
  • II Corinthians 13:7
  • Ephesians 1:15-21
  • Philippians 4:6
  • Colossians 1:3
  • I Thessalonians 1:2
  • II Thessalonians 1:3
  • II Thessalonians 2:13
  • I Peter 2:5

One final aspect of prayer that must be briefly mentioned before we move on is the mode of prayer. Specifically, is prayer a one-way or two-way conversation? Many Christians today teach that prayer is a “two-way” conversation. And while it certainly is true that God can speak to you whenever He wants to (whether you are praying at the time or not), nothing in the Bible indicates that prayer is a two-way conversation. In fact, the Bible clearly portrays prayer basically as communication from man to God (see Philippians 4:6 and the prayers in the Psalms for a few of many examples). Even when prayer is answered by a visit from a prophet (see II Kings 19:20 for one example) or an angel (see Daniel 9:17ff for one example), it is not always at the time of prayer (but it could be). Simply put, prayer is appealing to God, petitioning Him, thanking Him, and praising Him. We can be confident that God hears and answers our prayers. The simple Biblical definition of prayer is a person or a group speaking to God, not a “two-way” conversation.

Difficult verses on prayer

At this point, there are a few difficult sections when it comes to prayer to Jesus. The only section that I am aware of in the post-Gospel period is found in I John:

I John 5:13-16 (ESV)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

This section is fascinating in that the occurrences of “he” and “him” are ambiguous. Are they referring to God the Father or to Jesus? Interestingly, the ESV adds the word “God” in verse 16 even though the Greek reads “he.” Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says this about verse 14: “Either in God, to whom prayer is made; or in the Son of God, through whose blood and righteousness believers in him have confidence with God at the throne of grace; they can come with boldness and intrepidity, and use freedom and liberty of speech, as the word here used signifies; especially when they have the Spirit of Christ with them, and are under the sprinklings of the blood of Christ, and have a comfortable assurance of being heard and answered….”[1] So even Trinitarians realize that the weight of prior biblical precedent leads us to read this section incredibly carefully. Prayer is to God through Christ Jesus.

Another difficult section is found in John in the middle of the discourse around the time of the Last Supper:

John 14:13-14 (ESV)
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

There are three things that cast the reading “me” into doubt. First, English translations are divided with how to translate this verse. Some Bible translations omit the word “me,” because, as the ESV translation notes, many Greek manuscripts omit the “me” in verse 14. Second, it seems bizarre for someone to say: “ask me something in my name.”[2] Third, this phrase seems to be the only time Jesus said something like this. Casting further doubt on the “me” in verse 14 is what Jesus said later in the same dialogue (not to mention John 11:22, which is before this dialogue):

John 15:16 (ESV)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Jesus taught the disciples to ask the Father in his name.

John 16:23-27 (ESV)
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.
In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;
for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

“In that day” is a reference to when the disciples will receive the holy spirit (see John 14:16ff), which was in his exalted form. Jesus instructed his disciples to ask the Father in his name; the Father then will give it to them. In verse 26, Jesus plainly taught that the disciples would not ask Jesus (who would then ask the Father), but that the disciples would ask the Father directly, because the Father loves them. As we saw earlier, Jesus consistently taught his disciples to pray to the Father in his name.

Perhaps because of these concerns, Matthew Poole’s Commentary says this of John 14:14: “The words are doubled for the further confirmation of them, that we might not doubt when we put up our petitions to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the will of God.”[3] Regardless, it is clear that Jesus Christ, as the exalted Lord, is involved in answering prayers (in a more dramatic and powerful way than even angels). We will discuss more about this in a future article on the “The Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prayer in the name of Jesus

One of the phrases that we have seen repeated in many of the sections concerning prayer is that prayer is to be made “in the name of Jesus.” I know that I was taught to end my prayers with the words “in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” I am not denigrating or slighting this practice—in some sense, it obviates the truth that prayer is to be made to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. However, we cannot limit our understanding of this phrase to merely saying some words. Let’s take a look at how this phrase is used in the Bible to get a more complete biblical picture.

Deuteronomy 18:5-7 (ESV)
For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for all time.
And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives–and he may come when he desires–to the place that the LORD will choose,
and ministers in the name of the LORD his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand to minister there before the LORD,

The Levites and priests were to minister “in the name of the LORD.”

I Samuel 17:45 (ESV)
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

David represented the God of Israel—he came “in the name of the LORD.” David defeated Goliath “in the name of the LORD.”

I Kings 18:30-32, 36-39 (ESV)
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down.
Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”
and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.
Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”

Elijah built an altar “in the name of the LORD.” Elijah was God’s servant and did everything in accordance with what God wanted. Even more, how Elijah represented God led Israel back to Him. These are just three examples of how this phrase is used in the Old Testament. How about the New Testament?

Matthew 21:9 (ESV)
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus, among other things, was one who came “in the name of the Lord.” He represented God the Father in all that he did (John 4:34; John 8:29; Hebrews 1:3).

Colossians 3:17 (ESV)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

No matter what we do, we are to do it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Based on what we have seen elsewhere, this cannot simply imply saying the words “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” We are to represent Christ Jesus in all that we do (see also Colossians 3:22-24).

Does that mean that vocalizing the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” is wrong or unnecessary? No. There are some biblical examples of speaking those words in a public ministering situation:

Acts 3:6 (ESV)
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

 

Acts 16:18 (ESV)
And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Additionally, the sons of Sceva had obviously heard of people casting spirits out in the name of Jesus, because they tried to do it, too (see the record in Acts 19:13ff). They failed in casting the spirits out not because they did not know the name of Jesus, but because they did not represent the Lord Jesus Christ. We must realize that praying “in the name of the Lord Jesus” does not limit itself to using those words, but also understanding that we should pray the way he would want us to pray. We pray as if Christ was praying. How much confidence can we have that our prayers will be answered if we consider that we are praying as Christ did? Did Jesus doubt his prayers would be answered? No! Similarly, we can have absolute confidence that our prayers will be answered as we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

Trinitarian views on prayer to Jesus

We have already seen some commentaries that give perspective on certain Trinitarian views on this subject. As with many biblical subjects, there are a variety of Trinitarian views on the subject of prayer to Jesus. At this point, I would like to offer two Trinitarian views of prayer that I found accessible online. Note that I disagree with some of the major premises of these writers, but still agree with some of their conclusions:

 

“So my conclusion is: Let your normal, regular praying be prayer to the Father through the Spirit in the name of Jesus…”[4]

“In conclusion, based on all that is taught about prayer, the one to whom prayer is addressed and the present role of each member of the Godhead is clearly set forth in the scriptures. Prayer is directed to the Father through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit assisting in intercession (Rom. 1: 8, 7: 25, Eph. 5: 20, Col. 3: 17, I Jn. 2: 1; Rom. 8: 26). There is no teaching found regarding prayer to Mary, saints, or to the apostle Peter; neither is there clear teaching regarding prayer addressed to Jesus. Man must learn, ‘not to think above that which is written’ (I Cor. 4: 6, notice ‘of men’ in the King James is supplied and not in the original). In the emphatic language and resolve of Paul, ‘I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph. 3: 14).”[5]

 

Each writer, despite the similar Trinitarian bias, suggests that prayer to Jesus should not be the normative Christian practice. One of the two even forwards the view that prayer to Jesus is not biblical. This should further demonstrate that the Biblical case for prayer to Jesus is limited.

Biblical view of talking to Jesus

Now that we have seen that the Biblical case for prayer to Jesus is limited, let us turn to the broader subject of “talking to Jesus.” Unitarian or Trinitarian, Jesus is still a person, after all. Can Christians simply talk to Jesus? Simply speaking, in every Biblical example we can find, people talked to Jesus only when he appeared to them, either in a vision or when physically present. Here are the accounts where people clearly talked to Jesus:

Acts 7:56, 59-60 (ESV)
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

Acts 9:3-6, 10-12, 17 (ESV)
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.
And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,
and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In all three of these instances, people saw Jesus and spoke to him. In Stephen’s case, there was no conversation—Stephen called out to Jesus without a response from the Lord. In addition to these three cases, Jesus Christ also appeared to John throughout the book of Revelation.

Here are some accounts that are generally believed to indicate people talking to Jesus:

I Corinthians 16:22 (ESV)
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!

 

Revelation 22:20 (ESV)
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

I Timothy 1:12 (ESV)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,

It is important to note that none of these three records actually suggest talking to Jesus directly—these are more about talking about him. There is nothing wrong with asking Jesus to come back soon (or being excited for him to return). And there is nothing wrong with thanking Jesus for what he has done for us, both globally (our redemption) and specifically (for those called into ministry).

There is one last record where it appears that Paul talked to Jesus. Here is the section in question:

II Corinthians 12:8-9 (ESV)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

First, it is unclear which “Lord” Paul is referring to. While it could be God the Father, most agree that it is probably Jesus. But there is some doubt here. Second, we cannot be sure if Paul petitioned Jesus when Jesus appeared to him. We know that Jesus promised to appear to Paul multiple times after he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:16). It is possible that Paul appealed to Jesus during some conversations with Christ. We simply cannot conclude from this section that Paul ever prayed to Jesus, even though Paul had a special relationship with Jesus. In conclusion, what we have seen so far suggests that, from a Biblical perspective, talking to Jesus is limited to when he is physically present or appearing to someone in a vision.

“Calling upon the name of the Lord”

Perhaps the strongest case for praying to Jesus comes from a phrase study of “calling upon the name of the Lord.” Let’s look at some of the occurrences of this phrase in the Old Testament to get a baseline for its various meanings:

Genesis 4:26 (ESV)
To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

 

Genesis 12:8 (ESV)
From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.

 

I Kings 18:22-32, 36-39 (ESV)
Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.
Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it.
And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”
And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.
And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.
And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down.
Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”
and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.
Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”

 

Zephaniah 3:9 (ESV)
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.

“Calling upon the name of the Lord” was different from “talking to God” or “prayer.” Adam had talked to God before Genesis 4:26. In many of the records where this phrase is used in the Old Testament, there are some common features: an altar, worship, sacrifice, service, and calling out verbally (invoking a name).

When conducting a word study on the word “call” as used in the Old Testament, here are some definitions that are pertinent. Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies defines this usage as “to cry for help, to call upon, to invoke; to call upon God… to call upon the name Jehovah.”[6] Concerning the usages in Genesis 4:26, Genesis 12:8, and I Kings 18:24, Brown-Driver-Briggs says the following: “call with the name of (i.e. use it in invocation).”[7] Gesenius defined the word as used in all of the above passages (Genesis 4:26, Genesis 12:8, I Kings 18:24, and Zephaniah 3:9) this way: “to call upon the name of God, i.e. to celebrate, to praise God, to implore his aid.”[8] This all fits well with what we could see in those contexts. The other contexts where this phrase is used are similar.

What does this have to do with Jesus? It turns out that this phrase “call upon the name of the Lord” occurs in six places times in the New Testament. Here is a complete listing:

Acts 2:21 (ESV)
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Acts 9:13-14, 21 (ESV)
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

 

Acts 22:16 (ESV)
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

 

Romans 10:11-13 (ESV)
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 

I Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

 

II Timothy 2:19-22 (ESV)
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

In Acts 2, Romans 10, and II Timothy 2, we cannot be certain that Jesus is the Lord being referred to. Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 are quotations from Joel 2:32, where the Lord was Jehovah.[9] In Acts 9, Acts 22, and I Corinthians 1, it is absolutely clear that Jesus is the Lord being called upon. Furthermore, the wording of these passages indicate that this was a common practice and distinctive among Christians. In fact, some have noted that this was the way that Christians described themselves, with “Christians” originally being a derogatory term used by non-Christians in Antioch (see Acts 11:26). Acts 22 (along with Acts 2 and Romans 10) indicates that this practice has something to do with salvation. Certainly “calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus” is something that sets Christians apart from followers of other religions and is meant to convey identity and relationship with Christ.

How do the lexicons define this practice? Bullinger says: “to call on, to call to… implying interest and advantage, to appeal.”[10] Thayer says: “I call upon (on my behalf) the name of the Lord, i. e. to invoke, adore, worship, the Lord.”[11] TheExegetical Dictionary of the New Testament says: “Epikaleōis used in the mid. voice in a theological sense to refer to the confession of faith in the Church’s acclamation, which always has as its content the ‘name,’ the proclaimed Lord himself…. From the context Rom. 10:13 is to be interpreted as the invocation of Jesus as Kyrios [Lord], in which is the basis for the salvation of mankind….”[12] Just as we saw with the Old Testament usages, “calling upon the name of the Lord” involves worship, praise, sacrifice, and an invocation of the name (and therefore, the authority behind the name). How does this practice differ from what is seen in the Old Testament? And why does Jesus seem to fulfill something originally ascribed to Jehovah?

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

 

Luke 10:19 (ESV)
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

 

John 8:28 (ESV)
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

 

John 14:10 (ESV)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

 

I Corinthians 15:23-28 (ESV)
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Christ was given incredible authority from God the Father. He has given that authority to his disciples and ambassadors—we represent and serve the Lord Christ (see II Corinthians 5:20 and Colossians 3:24). So, in many ways, the practice of “calling upon the name of the Lord” carries significance from the Old Testament to the New. However, while “calling upon the name of Jehovah” in the Old Testament may have included many practices (including prayer), there is no clear way to bring all of those elements forward to Christ in the New Testament version of the practice.[13] Thus, there are biblical and contextual reasons to limit the nature of “calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus” to something that does not include prayer, since the Bible nowhere encourages prayer to Jesus. (As a quick aside, it is important to consider the implications of how we define “calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” If we define this practice narrowly to be talking or praying to Jesus, then ultimately talking and praying to Jesus become issues of salvation, since this practice is repeatedly associated with salvation, as in Romans 10:13. Can we really hang an issue of salvation on talking or praying to Jesus, something with so little Biblical evidence to support?) However, the aspects of sacrifice, praise, dedication, invocation, and yes, even worship, are important to recognize. Those will be discussed in greater detail in the articles on “The Lord Jesus Christ“ and “What should we render to the King?”

Unitarian questions

For those reading this who are Unitarian (as opposed to Trinitarian), I have some questions relating to talking to Jesus. First, when and why would you take something to Jesus instead of going directly to God? I Peter 5:7 says that we should cast all of our cares upon God, for He cares for us. In John 16:26, Jesus told his disciples that they would ask God directly for the things that they needed, not ask Jesus to ask God for them. It seems that the Christian should take all their petitions, prayers, requests, and supplications to God the Father.

Second, can Jesus hear you if you talk to him, whether in your head or out loud? There is no Biblical evidence that suggests that Jesus can hear what everyone around the world is saying at once. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that he has that ability. If he is an exalted man (as a Unitarian supposes), we have every reason to believe that he cannot hear everything and see everything like God does.

Third, if we are to pray the way that Christ did and the way that he would want us to pray, how can we ignore the Biblical evidence in search for direct communication with him? The truth of “in the name of Jesus Christ” indicates that we are his representatives here on earth. Jesus wants us to pray the way that he did—which was to God the Father. Jesus has given us access to God the Father (Ephesians 3:12).

Positive Framework or Negative Framework

When we approach the Bible, we have a choice as to whether we view the Bible from a positive framework or a negative framework. Interpreting and applying the Bible using a positive framework is to say: what does the Bible say I should do and shouldn’t do? Someone who views the Bible using a positive framework lives using the Bible as a literal guideline: she does what the Bible says to do and avoids what the Bible tells her to avoid. Someone looking at the same issues with a negative framework asks the following question in addition to the previous one: does the Bible forbida certain action? If the Bible does not forbid something, then it may be permissible. However, there is a problem with the second approach: how can we determine that something in the “gray space” is godly or not?

There are many things not specifically endorsed or forbidden in the Bible. One of those things is talking to Jesus. Christians are never commanded to talk or pray to Jesus—yet, we are commanded to pray to God the Father many times. Those who promote prayer to Jesus must use a negative framework; that is, they must say, “Prayer to Jesus is not specifically forbidden by the Bible.” However, this does not demonstrate that God wants us to pray to Jesus (which would also indicate Jesus’ opinion on the matter), that Jesus can hear us, or that Christians should pray to Jesus. This article has attempted to provide the Biblical evidence, and it paints a clear picture:

  • The Bible commands prayer to God the Father in the name of Jesus
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to pray to God the Father in his name
  • Jesus, even in his post-resurrection appearances, is a man, appearing at one place at a time and holding one conversation at a time. Nowhere does he appear to have the Father’s ability to be “everywhere-present.”
  • People only talked to Jesus when he was physically present or appeared in a vision

Why complicate prayer beyond the scope of what the Bible clearly presents?

Conclusion

The simple biblical fact is that Christian prayer is to be made to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (as if Christ himself were praying). I want to take a step back and be incredibly careful here: I am not condemning those who talk to Jesus. The purpose of this article was to demonstrate the Biblical case. And simply speaking, if God wants us to do something, we will be able to find it in the Bible. If praying or talking to Jesus was that important to the Christian walk, it would have been fully developed, prescribed, commanded, and delineated in the Bible. Those who teach otherwise must be careful—their experiences cannot trump the Bible. However, at the same time, I am not commanding people not to talk to Jesus, nor am I suggesting that those who actively do so are evil or wrong. I will not add to the Bible either, and such commandments would be adding to the Scriptures. I simply find the practice of praying to Jesus to be without clear scriptural support. There is much more to learn about Jesus and his place in the life of the Christian. We will continue to develop these ideas as the series progresses.


[1]Found online here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-john-5-14.html

[2]This gains even more importance in the discussion on “in the name of the Lord” that comes later in this article.

[3]Found online here: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/poole/john/14.htm

[4]Theologian John Piper; original article found here: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-i-pray-to-the-father-the-son-or-the-spirit

[5]http://www.bibletruths.net/archives/BTAR233.htm

[6]See page 62.

[7]See The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, page 895.

[8]See the entry for Strong’s H7121 found here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H7121&t=ESV

[9]There are New Testament quotations of Old Testament passages where Jesus is ascribed fulfillment of something promised by Jehovah (for example: Hebrews 1:10). (Side note: this phenomenon does not make Jesus Jehovah. Jesus also fulfills promises to David and other humans.)

[10]See A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, page 128.

[11]See the entry for epikaleo (Strong’s G1941) here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1941&t=KJV

[12]See page 29 of volume 2, edited by Balz and Schneider.

[13]Interestingly, even the Meyer New Testament commentary (a Trinitarian resource) agrees with a limited view of “calling upon the Lord”: “He who calls upon Christ is conscious that he does not call upon Him as the absolute God, but as the divine-human Representative and Mediator of God exalted to the divine glory, in whom God’s adequate revelation of salvation has been given.” Available here, speaking of Romans 10:12: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/romans/10.htm

Comments

comments

5 Comments

  1. Will, this is a nice and clear overview of this subject. I like how you went to the Scriptures and let them speak for themselves. There’s still much more to learn on this, but it is important in our walk as Christians to have practical understanding of our relationship with our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for your work and labor of love,

    In Christ, Gene Slavit

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